The toughest season yet


Cole Lindwall hits a backhand in a match. Photo courtesy of Cole Lindwall.

Ryan Baker, Assistant Men's Sports Editor

The expectation for the UW-Whitewater’s Men’s Tennis team is always to win their conference, and that is simply because they haven’t lost a conference match in over 10 years. Behind the likes of junior Luke VanDonslear, senior John Zakowski, and an incredibly deep roster, those expectations seem well within reach.

VanDonslear and Zakowski finished the fall season by bringing home the doubles regional title and falling just short of the ITA Oracle Cup National title. However, head coach Frank Barnes believes that this spring will bring forth the toughest competition they have seen in a while.

“I think this year will be tough as ever, so we have to focus on that quite a bit. We probably have one of the toughest schedules out there,” said Barnes. “We have a good amount of teams that we face that are ranked in the top ten so we will find out what we are made of when we go through those matchups.”

They come into the spring ranked as the number two team in the Region VII rankings only behind Gustavus Adolphus. Nearly every single of Whitewater’s matches are against top ten ranked teams in the country. No matter who they play, where they play, what day it is, or who is out there on the court, the preparation stays the same.

“We try to prepare every week exactly the same regardless of what event, tournament or dual match we have coming up. We work on consistency in singles,” said Barnes. “We’ve always been known for our doubles play, and in college tennis if you can start off doing well in doubles it sets the tone. We really focus on a lot of doubles, especially early in the season.”

VanDonslear is also aware of the difficulty that they have ahead of them this season. His biggest philosophy for himself, and that he wants the team to understand and embrace, is to not be afraid.

“I think the biggest thing that us as a team need to focus on is showing up every day at practice and pushing each other. Not being afraid to compete and just having fun. If we’re all having fun, then the other stuff will take care of itself,” said VanDonslear. “Also, not being afraid to fail. There are going to be a lot of times this spring that things won’t go our way and we have to keep moving forward.”

The grueling season begins Jan. 28 against Wabash College and Cardinal Stritch University and ideally will not conclude until May 22 which is when the NCAA DIII individual tournament ends. The long season provides chances for players to develop and freshmen to finally get their feet wet. One freshman that has all eyes on him is Tyler Nelson.

“He was the top ranked player in the state going into the high school state tournament. He was the number one seed, and so we knew he had a lot of talent. He has a smaller stature, so a lot of people overlook him but he’s a really smart player,” said Barnes. “If you watch him play, it’s unflappable. Anything that happens during his match, he moves on, you can’t tell if he is winning or losing. It’s a great mentality that we try to teach all of our games, and he came in with that.”

The season can be taxing on the mind and body, not to mention that all of these players have school to worry about as well. Each has their own ways of managing it, and have different routines to get their mind right before matches. VanDonslear has carried over a tradition of listening to the same music since his days at NIU.

“I have to listen to this type of music just to relax, and as a reminder that you’re out here and you’re going to have fun. That allows me to remain calm and mentally prepare,” said VanDonslear. “I went to NIU my first couple years, and there were a bunch of foreigners on the team so it was a lot of European and international music. I researched different artists they showed me and I picked two or three songs from each artist in about five or six different languages.”

The Warhawks will hope to continue their dominance across the board in 2023, and add to the legacy of Whitewater tennis. With one of the deepest teams seen to date and a mentality of team-first, they are starting in the right spot. Only time will tell if they end in the right spot.